Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who speaks for the congregation?

The UUA Board's primary authority comes from its member congregations -- and we in turn are accountable to those member congregations. In my last post I talked about the kinds of conversations should be having in my UUA trustee role. But who, exactly, should I be having them with?

For many UUA trustees this has traditionally been with district boards, delegates at district assemblies, and/or the most vocal members of various congregations. All of these are welcome and valuable, but do not exactly fit the description of a "congregation" -- and brings up the potential for listening to the best known and/or loudest voices, and not necessarily the most representative.

This is why the UUA Board choose a random sample of 100 congregations across the United States to ask questions like "who speaks for your congregation?" and "what does a healthy relationship between organizations look like?" Interviews have been going on in person or by phone for the past few months, and will be reported out at General Assembly. The UU Church of Stockton was the only one selected in the sample from the Pacific Central District, so I have been having these conversations in other districts as well.

Our hypothesis was that the Board president and called minister(s) (if there are any), would speak for the congregation. That has been true (so far) a little over 60% of the time -- sometimes it is the church administrator, sometimes another board member, or sometimes the person with the most knowledge or greatest set of communication skills.

"Who speaks for the congregation" is most clear once a year -- during General Assembly when it is that congregation's delegates. Yet many of those delegates do not feel empowered to vote on behalf of their congregation. So we have delegates empowered by the by-laws of the Association to direct resources of the Association, but often doing so without being empowered by, or speaking on behalf or, their own congregations.

One of the responses I hear is "delegates don't do anything important anyway". That is probably true if you look at "important" as the kind of urgency that will be in place this summer with the vote on where GA 2012 will be held. And to some degree it is a self-fulfilling prophecy -- as a board member I want to be directed by a thoughtful body of delegates that has worked through the implications of what they are doing, and bring the force of their own congregations with them. Is that too much to ask?

1 comment:

Carolina said...

I really love this question. We ask it so often!
This year, largely due to the SB 1070 debacle and the subsequent UUA resolution, we are taking exceptional care to discuss UUA business within the congregation, and to charge the GA delegates with the authentic representation of our collective will. It would be easier with a settled minister - but we're muddling through!